Universities have long been centres for change. They have the power to both educate and inspire, therefore they should be attempting to do their part in helping to fight the climate crisis our planet is currently facing. Although, there is no point educating students on the need to live sustainably if universities aren’t prepared to invest in making campuses more sustainable first.
In an attempt to do just this, Gloucestershire University has announced plans to ditch its traditional printed prospectus in favour of wristbands marked with QR codes. These wristbands will be filled with wildflower seeds and link to information online. Vice-Chancellor Stephen Marston said it was a “further step” to increase sustainability at the university.
The change comes after research by the university estimated that more than 2.5 million prospectuses are printed by UK universities each year (15,000 by Gloucestershire uni). With most people only reading a handful of pages, before throwing them in the bin and looking online for the specific information they want, it would seem that they are unnecessary and wasteful.
However, is this scheme just a drop in the ocean? How much change will a few less paper booklets really make? Surely there are better ways universities can, and do, seek to reduce waste.
Organic waste bins and water fountains have been popping up around university campuses over the last year. This simple addition has the power to encourage students to consider how they dispose of their waste, by making recycling and refilling water bottles easy and convenient.
Additionally, universities have started purchasing local food and producing food on campus. This not only lowers their carbon footprint, but also allows them to support local business and address unethical sourcing. Additionally, this way of shopping can minimise waste, as most local produce won’t come wrapped in layers of plastic.
On-campus donation and swap initiatives are another great way to encourage low waste thinking. By making these initiatives visible and accessible, universities can encourage more people to join in and thus help to reduce waste on a larger scale.
Educational programmes within the uni are also being introduced. Students are the most willing to learn and so by educating them on the benefits of living low waste and by subsequently inspiring them to take action, universities can foster real change. Students need to be given the knowledge and tools to go out and make the changes necessary to drive sustainable initiatives.
Students can then take these initiatives further, educating and inspiring the wider community to enact waste reduction. Universities are often central to communities and so they have the ability to connect and affect a wide and varied sector of society. Through this, they can better spread the message of low-waste living. Successful social ventures include helping local communities organize sustainable events, volunteering for individuals in need and providing funding for green initiatives. When universities reach out to assist local citizens, they spread their knowledge of sustainability throughout the community. Doing so inspires people to participate in the movement and work toward a healthier future together.
There is no doubt that education is one of the greatest catalysts of change, and it is likely to be the students themselves who go on to become leaders in the fight against climate change. Therefore, universities must put environmentalism high on their list of priorities. While the QR code wristbands may feel like a gimmick, they are, in fact, an important step in the right direction.
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